Toronto 2002



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Session 1

Theme: How and Why We Read: The Case of Genesis 34

Pamela Thimmes, University Of Dayton, Presiding


Session 2

Theme: Current Issues in Feminist Hermeneutics

Richard D Weiss, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, Presiding

F Rachel Magdalene, Towson University

Job's Wife as Hero: The Law Gives New Meaning to Her Words

The infamous words of Job's wife, "Curse God and die!" have created an interpretive conundrum. The vitriolic, anti-female readings of this literary event are almost as legendary as her words. St. Augustine considered her the second Eve, another one of Satan's handmaidens. Contemporary feminist scholars have been kinder. Several have suggested that she simply takes pity on Job, desiring to put him out of his misery via "theological euthanasia." Pity does not explain, however, why a woman, suffering the losses she has, would now want to give up all hope for a stable future by encouraging her husband to suicide in the most reprehensible way imaginable. By doing such, he would leave her ostracized and destitute. Her instruction to him is her own slow, painful suicide. Readings based on pity are, therefore, insensitive to women's cultural reality at the time. This paper offers another feminist solution to the problem. A literary reading in light of Neo-Babylonian law reveals that the book of Job contains a sophisticated trial between God and Job on the charge of having the guilty mind of a blasphemer. Job suffers a torturous investigative process during the trial, consistent with Neo-Babylonian law. E. Scarry, R. Cover, and M. Tillie, all explain that the purpose of state-sanctioned torture is to obtain the cooperation of its victim with a violent, oppressive legal system, which it accomplishes by stripping its victim of language. C. Newsom, relying on Scarry, has pointed out that Job's torture initially accomplishes the desired effect, but ultimately fails. This paper maintains that it is Job's wife who gives him the spark to challenge God's oppressive legal system. This paper explains how she accomplishes this goal, making the rest of the story possible, and becomes a hero in the process.

Madipoane J Masenya, University Of South Africa

A small herb increases itself (makes impact) by a bad odour: Reimagining Vashti in an African-South Context

The Northern Sotho proverb goes: serokolwana se sennyane se ikoketsa ka go nkga (a small herb increases itself/impact by a bad odour. If applied literally, it shows that though the herb in question is too small (compared to its human users), once it is applied for use, it releases a strong therapeutic odour. One of the tenors of this proverb is as follows: those which are (deemed) small or insignificant have a way of making their influence felt by those who are bigger/stronger than them. The proverb reminds us of the struggle for survival which women as others, experience in a patriarchal world. The present text is an attempt to reimagine/understand the Vashti figure in Esther 1 from the view point of mordern African-South African women in their struggle for survival in the present day South Africa. Contrary to the traditional anti-Vashti interpretation of Esther 1, this paper seeks to show that irrespective of the marginalisation of Vashti by both the narrator and the king (and his court), and therefore in her struggle to survive both in the text and at the royal court, her example as it is portrayed in this text, may prove to be helpful in African-South African women's struggle for survival in present day South Africa.

Holly Toensing, Xavier University

Birthing the Word: A Feminist Interpretation of John's Prologue

Feminist biblical theologians working with the fourth gospel are confronted with the obvious challenge of the evangelist's father-language. Some feminists have approached this challenge by highlighting that such language is strongly relational with respect to Jesus as God's son and thus stresses intimacy, relationship and family. I would like to offer another perspective to this challenge by examining the reproductive imagery in John's prologue against the background of Jewish and Greco-Roman notions of conception and birth. This examination might allow a "mother-language" to emerge from being eclipsed behind the obvious father-language and traditional interpretations of God in John's gospel.

Franz Volker Greifenagen, Luther College, University Of Regina

Reading the Bible with Islamic Feminists Reading the Qur'an: Comparative Feminist Hermeneutics

This paper argues that feminist hermeneutics of the Bible can fruitfully be informed by Islamic feminist readings of the Qur'an. Traditionally, the Qur'an, like the Bible, has been interpreted largely by men in support of male dominance in society. But Muslim women, like Jewish and Christian women, are interpreting their scripture and traditions from a liberative female stance. As in the Bible, however, certain passages in the Qur'an have proven to be especially problematic. Several English language examples of Muslim feminist approaches to such passages (e.g. Qur'an 4:34)will illustrate particular Islamic feminist hermeneutic principles. These will be compared to feminist approaches to similar difficult passages in the Bible (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-24).

Deborah Krause, Eden Theological Seminary

Who’s Afraid of Winsome Munro? Examining the Formation of a Consensus on Women and Early Christian Discipleship in Feminist Biblical Interpretation

In the 1980’s feminist critical biblical scholarship began to secure a place in the academic study of biblical literature. As with all interpretive movements, feminist critical study developed various consensus positions regarding aspects of the historical reconstruction of Israel and the early church. One such consensus was that of the role of women as disciples within the Jesus movement. As is often true within scholarly endeavor, voices that challenged this consensus, even within feminist critical study, were isolated and disparaged in the developing hegemony of the consensus position. This paper takes up a critical investigation and examination of this consensus in light of ideological and political criticism, and seeks to apply a feminist hermeneutic of suspicion to the history of feminist critical interpretation of early Christianity. Central to this study is the somewhat obscure feminist biblical critic Winsome Munro (1925-1994). Professor Munro’s essays on women and the Jesus movement did not conform to the emerging consensus of the 1980’s. The question of this paper is did that make her study any less feminist or any less critical? The purpose of this investigation is to explore through the particular biography of one scholar and her work what makes feminist critical biblical interpretation both feminist and critical. Moreover, the paper will explore the ground of the identity of feminist critical biblical scholarship as a set of practices grounded within intersecting and sometimes competing commitments to political liberation, ecclesial inclusion, and academic profession